Sunday, March 4, 2012

Empty Bowls

Mint green. Lavender. Pastel pink. Small infant feeding bowls stacked in my cupboards. We frequently use them for deserts, ice cream, even snacks for the youngest in our home. Gaily clashing little containers pigmented to entertain the notions of what infancy demands of new parents. With a ten year old and two kindergartners, we hardly fall into this marketing demographic. Half a dozen or so in number, sitting in my cabinet, within each other. Pastel plastic reminders of heartache.

These bowls had a purpose far more grand in our home than to serve after dinner delights to eager sugar craving faces. They were given, some were purchased, all were promised for use as per their created purpose - to be utilized to help nourish our new infant daughter. Very many do not know that last year we were in process of receiving a beautiful little girl, barely months old. A relative newborn. An orphan. We were initially approached by agencies and after much prayer and discussion, we felt the Lord leading us to proceed. We said "yes".

Then the elation set in. We were soon to be parents of a newborn. Then the fear set in. We were soon to be parents of a newborn. As we shared our decision with family and friends many shared our joy with us. Certainly there were those who questioned if we knew what we were doing, adopting two children within a 12-15 month time span. But the Lord was in this and faith is being willing to go where He leads, even when you can't see the end of the road.

Soon, people began to shower gifts upon us. First clothing, then infant necessities. A beautiful crib was given. Bibs, sippy cups, toys, pastel colored bowls. Then the big day finally arrived for our daughter to be brought to us by the agency. They didn't come in the morning as expected.  Puzzled, we called and could not reach anyone. Then they didn't come in the afternoon. Then they closed for the day. We were shocked and hurt. Why would they miss the appointment?  The next day we called repeatedly and through a frustrating series of phone calls and exchanged messages over the next days, we learned our daughter had been taken to another family.

The weeks that followed were an eternity and the outcome was that our daughter, the girl that we had grown to love as our own before she ever was brought into our home, was given to someone else. "Loss" and "Betrayal" are not adequate descriptors. In many ways, this was far worse than our miscarriage. In losing a child in the womb, we felt a sense of closure in the knowledge that our Elizabeth Grace is already dancing with our Savior. In losing this child, the knowledge is bitterly real that she lives within a half an hour's driving distance and will never know the hearts of two parents who loved her deeply before she knew them. Nearly eight months past, my children still pray for their sister who never was.

And what do we have to show for our heartache?  What consolation for our loss? Empty plastic bowls. Mint Green. Lavender. Pastel Pink. Each of them containers for memories that were promised but never delivered.

But picture this: picture a five-year old girl with hot fudge sauce smeared on her smiling face as she eagerly dives into another caramel-chocolate covered scoop of her favorite ice cream out of a small mint-green plastic bowl. Picture a little dark haired boy laughing hysterically at his favorite silly cartoon while absent mindedly fingering through a small plastic pink bowl of Goldfish crackers. Picture a half dozen neighborhood kids chattering and laughing loudly, each with brightly colored pastel bowls filled with chilled grapes on a summer afternoon while taking a break from the hard work of play. Picture life. Picture joy. Picture a change of purpose.

You see, everyone of us has empty bowls. They are the unfulfilled notions or dreams that we were certain were to be the direction and calling of our lives. Certainly we mourn what could have been, what should have been. We seem caught back on our heels that the devil actually lived up to what was promised about him - that he actually seeks to steal, kill, or destroy. That he actually does have each one of us targeted for these things. Empty bowls are a reminder of blessings stolen, of plans destroyed, of dreams killed; less figuratively, loved ones lost, friendships ruined, sickness, death, opportunities snatched. So we stack them, silent reminders of the unfulfilled.

But with God, nothing is wasted and everything has purpose. The empty is filled, the ruined is re-tasked, the crumbling rebuilt, the broken restored. God doesn't want us to keep our cupboards filled with our trophies of defeat. He wants us to let Him show us how to use them for his Glory. Having experienced what we did, I can honestly say that though heartache is still close, I am stronger, more wise, and more impassioned toward the needy child than ever I would have been prior. Where bitterness should be, an understanding of the limitations of man-made systems of welfare where the Church should be the one in action is far more pressing in my heart. Through the darkness of the journey, depths of understanding, trust, and faith are now increased and I know beyond a doubt that I truly can "do all things through Christ who strengthens me" because there were days where we simply needed the strength to breathe.

And my cupboards? They're still filled with empty plastic bowls - but only because we ran out of ice cream.

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